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Physician referrals for mind body therapies becoming mainstream

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Mind body therapy

More physicians are suggesting yoga, meditation and other mind body therapies for their patients, finds a new study.

A new study from from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Harvard Medical School researchers found one in 30 American have been referred for non-traditional therapies like yoga, meditation and deep breathing exercises by their medical care provider.

The change in attitude about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is based on good science, says study author Aditi Nerurkar, MD, Integrative Medicine Fellow, Harvard Medical School and BIDMC.

“There’s good evidence to support using mind-body therapies clinically.” Still, Nerurkar says the high rate of referrals for alternative therapies from physicians was a surprise.

The findings, published in the” Archives of Internal Medicine”, suggest physicians may be sending patients for mind, body therapies as a last resort, when conventional treatment has failed.

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“It makes us wonder whether referring patients for these therapies earlier in the treatment process could lead to less use of the health care system, and possibly, better outcomes for these patients,” said Nerurkar.

The study data, taken from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey of 23,000 households in the US, found 6.3 million Americans were referred for alternative therapies by their physicians. The results also showed patients referred for mind body therapy tended to be sicker than those who self-refer.

Russell Phillips, MD, Chief of Primary Care at BIDMC and the senior author on the study, says more research is needed to help physicians guide patients when making decisions about using yoga, meditation, deep breathing and other non-traditional treatments.

Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(9):862-864. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.160
“When Conventional Medical Providers Recommend Unconventional Medicine: Results of a National Study”
Aditi Nerurkar, MD, MPH; Gloria Yeh, MD, MPH; Roger B. Davis, ScD; Gurjeet Birdee, MD, MPH; Russell S. Phillips, MD

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